The Pursuit of Learning
There are few things in the world as transformative as an education, but it’s important to remember education is just one step along the greater journey. When working with young people to help them plan their future, we must consider both the path ahead and the road behind before deciding on a school, a major or even a single course. No one understands this better than YouthLink’s Education Navigator, Jason.
“The pursuit of learning is an excellent one, but if we don’t understand where the youth we’re working with are coming from or help them to understand their long-term goals, we aren’t doing everything we can to set them up for success.”
Every day, Jason works with youth experiencing homelessness to connect the dots between their talents, their goals for the future and the role education plays in the midst of it all.
“We need to have a deep understanding of who the youth are as individuals before we even start laying out an education plan. We work with them to identify their aptitudes, interests and soft skills and help them tie it all back to the types of career paths available in the industries they’re drawn to,” Jason says.
“Part of this process includes aptitude assessments, but the most critical conversations are the natural, day-to-day interactions staff have with the young people. That’s when we get a real sense of what they’re passionate about.”
From there, Jason begins to work with the youth to determine the education they need to to blend their passions and skills together and turn them into a career.
“Of course it’s important to help the youth navigate the logistics of choosing a college, ACCUPLACER test prep, writing application essays, financial aid. We work with a volunteer at the U of M who helps with the FAFSA application. But it’s much more than college 101,” he says.
“We have to do what we can to make it easy for them to follow through on the plan. It starts by making education as accessible as possible for them. Sometimes that means setting the right expectations, balancing what they want, what they need and what they’re ready for right now. Sometimes it means getting their feet wet. Encouraging them to take a class or two to zero in on what they really want to do, so they don’t dive in too quickly and get overwhelmed. Sometimes it’s making it possible for them to ask for what they need.”
This can be something as simple as getting them a bus pass so they can make it to class or even making a phone call to explain their unique circumstances to an understanding instructor
“One of the young people we work with was worried he’d have to drop out of his automotive program because the instructor had announced that everyone in the class needed to have their own set of tools if they were going to continue with the program. I called the instructor and explained that this young man was living in a shelter and couldn’t afford to buy the required tools,” Jason explains.
“That’s all it took. The young man was a leader in the class, always helping other students and the instructor didn’t want to lose him as a student. The instructor immediately took steps to ensure this young man could continue with the program. All it was, was a conversation. But it was one the young man never would have initiated.”
This small conversation made a huge impact, but Jason and the rest of the education team at YouthLink are just getting started.
“We’re in the process of putting together some exciting new programs. Soon, youth will be able to attend workshops that will give them employment, as well as life skills. There will be online modules and formal college tours. We’re working with local businesses to arrange employer tours,” says Jason.
“All of this is going to make our services more accessible to the youth, giving them a firm foundation as they pursue an education followed by a career they are enthusiastic about.”